Mirror Image

Expectations Go to Hell

“We need to move,” Anna said, leading the group back through the teleporter. “Don’t delay, don’t pause, just run. We need to get out of here.”

Everyone looked curiously at Anna but did as she asked, if from nothing more than surprise that she was there and alive. Despite Anna’s frantic directions, however, the Tower was deathly still and empty as they sprinted down the stairs.

“Not fast enough!” Anna growled, shoving Lloyd ahead of her and signaling the other to move faster.

“Ada what--?” Lloyd started to ask. But then the reason for her haste immediately became clear.

The ground beneath their feet shuddered violently to life, staggering everyone. Unlike the earlier tremors, this did not subside after a few moments but kept going and kept growing. The others ran full out now, understanding Anna’s warning, but it was hard going. At one particularly huge jolt, Anna stumbled and fell forward into Zelos, knocking him, Regal, Raine, and Presea off of their feet.

"Wow," Genis said, helping Presea to her feet. "That almost beat Colette's record."

The ground lurched again and they all stumbled. Lloyd braced Colette and looked around at the wobbling walls. "We need to get out of here, now!" They continued down, trying to ignore how the walls were groaning and buckling as the shakes kept going on and on. Great jagged pieces fell from the roof and exploded in craters around them. One large chunk of the ceiling broke free and Anna had to tuck and roll out of the way to avoid being crushed.

"Hurry!” she shouted to the others. “There's going to be Hell to pay as it is—AUGH!" Quite abruptly a swift and violent pang tore through her hand, racing down her arms and down her spine. She gripped her hand, screwing up her watery eyes, trying to keep going.

More of the ceiling fell and Regal snatched Anna out from under it, dragging her down the stairs. "Are you alright, Adalais?" he asked.

"Yeah," Anna lied. "I think I just…injured or bruised my hand or something. Keep going!" The pain subsided, but every time the ground beneath them shook, it throbbed, as though protesting the torment the earth was undergoing. The group was about halfway down when the tower gave a particularly violent shake. With a great cracking noise, the stone beneath their feet gave way and they plummeted down to the ground. Anna screamed, not from the fall, but because the jagged pain ripped through her hand again.

"I summon thee, Sylph!" Sheena shouted. "CATCH!"

A gust of air rocketed up from the ground, catching them as firmly as a hand and lowering them swiftly, yet gently to the floor. As soon as they had landed, Anna’s agony subsided again. She followed her friends as they sped through the main room, but as the others sprinted outside, Anna remembered something and looked in her bag. There was something missing.

Ada turned the page to examine the picture of Martel. It was strange, but she did look, as Mithos put it, disturbingly like Tabatha…and the actual Goddess Martel. On the next page was her favorite blue headed Seraph, Yuan…there was a smudge over the last name. No wonder you never find it out in the game. So this means the next page is…

Kratos Aurion.

She ran to the bookshelves, which had spilled their books as the magnitude of the earthquake increased. She tore through the dusty volumes, ignoring her new source of discomfort, desperately searching for the book that proclaimed the four heroes for who they truly were. It was one bit of faded history she didn't want lost. Her hands closed around the heavy volume, just as more of the tower collapsed around her. "Damn!" She dove to the side, away from the falling stone, hitting the ground on her stomach and covering the book with her body. The stone crashed and showered her with pebbles and dust. Anna jumped to her feet and ran for the door as piece after piece of the roof crashed at her heels. She cleared the threshold and jumped down the stairs, running for the woods.

Lloyd and the others had found a nearby clearing and saw a familiar blue-haired figure standing just outside the tree line. They raced up to Yuan, who looked wildly excited. Behind him stood Kratos, looking wildly impassive as usual.

"You did it!" Yuan cried at their approach.

Kratos gasped as a ripping noise echoed through the air. "No!"

"Wait!" Colette cried, looking around. "Where's Ada?”

“Ada?” Kratos said, paling. “What do you mean—?”

"I’m here!" shouted a female voice. Kratos froze, his ears hardly daring to believe it. He had heard that voice just a little while ago as some invisible being pulled him and Yuan apart, but he thought he had imagined it. Could it be…? Was it really…?

Everyone turned as Anna skidded into the clearing behind Kratos, covered in dust and dirt. She hunched over, hands on her knees, panting as she tried to regulate her breathing.

"What the…?" Yuan gasped, backing away in horror. "You! You're dead…again!" Yuan glared at Anna, who grinned up at him through pouring sweat. "Can't you just stay dead for once?"

"Not likely," Anna replied. Straightening up and winking at him.

"What the hell is that?" Lloyd interrupted.

In the distant sky, a gargantuan brown mass stretched up toward the sky. As they watched, limbs twisted and grew, sprouting green vegetation as roots shot outward, digging into the earth and winding around the Tower of Salvation. In the midst of the hideous and insane bark was a green orb with a beautiful young woman encased in sleep.

"What's happening?!" Lloyd shouted.

"Oh my god..." Zelos gasped.

"It that…the Giant Kharlan Tree?" Genis asked in horror.

Colette was gazing, almost in a trance, at the sleeping half-elf cruelly suspended in the crazed tree. "That person…I feel like I've met her somewhere before."

Yuan felt his veins turn to stone as he looked at the orb and the woman who was trapped there. This couldn’t be… It had been four thousand years since he had last looked upon her face. She had been gripping his hand tightly, trying to fight back the pain long enough to make her final wish and to tell Yuan that she'd always be with him.

"Martel!" Yuan gasped.

"Martel?" Raine said. "That woman about to be consumed by the tree is Martel?"

Colette was still thinking. "She reminds me of someone. She reminds me of--"

"Why would Martel reappear with that giant, grotesque tree?" Yuan snapped, rounding on Kratos.

Kratos fixed him with a glare, despite the fact that he was all too aware of Anna’s presence just behind Yuan. He would deal with that as soon as he could, but they had to deal with this first. "I was afraid this would happen. Having lost the stability afforded by the protection of the Summon Spirits, the Great Seed has gone out of control."

Yuan shook his head. "No! The purpose of the Summon Spirits was to isolate the Great Seed from the outside world and prevent it from growing!"

Kratos covered his face with his hand in exasperation. "That was only half of it. The two worlds were forced out of phase by Yggdrasill. They should have drifted apart from each other and have been consumed by the void. But this was prevented from happening because the Great Seed was placed in the center between the two worlds."

Yuan rolled his eyes. "I don't need a lecture from you to know that!"

"If you knew it we wouldn't be in this mess," Anna snapped.

"The Great Seed is constantly being pulled upon from both worlds as they try to separate from one another," Kratos said. "It's a miracle that this delicate balance held up for even this long."

Yuan thought for a moment and snapped his fingers. "So the mana links served as a cage to contain the Great Seed in the space between the two worlds? Is that what you're saying?"

Kratos nodded. "And because you provided the unstable Great Seed with mana, it germinated in a twisted form and has gone out of control. It's even engulfed Martel."

Lloyd shook his head. "Who cares why this happened! I wanna know what's gonna happen if we can't stop this thing!"

"If what Kratos says is true—" Yuan began.

"Which it is," interjected Ada.

Yuan sighed at her before continuing. "—Sylvarant will be consumed and destroyed by the Great Seed. And if Sylvarant is destroyed, Tethe'alla will be destroyed as well, as it is linked by the Holy Ground of Kharlan and the Otherworldly Gate."

"Then everyone will die," said Presea.

"Everyone except that twisted tree and the angels that live on Derris-Kharlan," corrected Kratos.

"Not that you could really call what they do ‘living,’" Anna muttered to Zelos, making quote marks with her hands at the word living. Zelos alone in the group would have understood that and had to suppress a snort of laughter.

"Yuan. How do you plan to rectify this situation?" Regal asked the half-elf.

"We can cut off the mana flow and stop the seed from receiving any more mana," Yuan said immediately, his mind already leaping yards ahead of the current situation.

"It's too late for that," Anna informed him, cutting across Kratos. "That thing has already absorbed all the mana it needs to go out of control. Stopping the mana won’t stop it. We need a better solution before the tree plunges its way into Tethe’alla. It hasn’t yet, but they will undoubtedly be feeling some earthquakes.”

"That makes sense," Raine said. "Because Colette activated the process of world regeneration, the Summon Spirits of Sylvarant are now active. Therefore, the Giant Tree was drawn over here by Sylvarant's Summon Spirits. Tethe’alla is temporarily safe because it’s summon spirits are not active, we merely formed pacts with them."

“The Summon Spirits exchange their respective roles of yin and yang each time a Chosen's quest for world regeneration succeeds," Kratos added. "Currently, the Summon Spirits of Sylvarant are carrying out the role of yang by providing the mana."

"But because the Giant Tree has over-absorbed Sylvarant's mana, it has gone out of control," Anna finished, looking at Yuan. "TOLD YOU SO!"

"We know!" Yuan shouted back

Lloyd thought for a moment. "If that's the case, couldn't we neutralize it by blasting it with the power of the opposing Summon Spirits?" Everyone stared. Kratos 'hmphed' in satisfaction and Anna grinned at her son.

"Whoa, Lloyd!" Genis looked shocked. "You actually understood what we were talking about?"

Lloyd hit Genis over the head. "Shut it, Genis! Professor once said that the negative and positive of a magnet neutralize each other. This is kind of the same thing, right?"

"That's not quite right, Lloyd, but nonetheless it's a clever idea coming from you," Raine and Anna said. Raine hid a smile.

"Even if we did decide to try and set the Summon Spirits of Tethe'alla against it, how are we gonna go about doing that?" Sheena asked. "We can't get close to that crazy thing the way it is now."

"The mana cannon," Yuan said.

“Oh come on already!” Anna shouted, impatient to speed things along. “Yuan tricked Rodyle into building the canon, let’s get to it, fill it up with Tethe’allan mana and blast the stupid tree already!” Anna crossed her arms grumpily. “Sheesh, do you guys ever stop talking?”

“You are an insufferable woman,” Yuan said disdainfully.

"Ok, woah!” Raine said, jumping in front of Yuan as Anna started forward, anger flashing in her eyes. “Focus. First, we need to shut off the current flow of mana to the tree. It'll be too late if the tree grows any larger."

Kratos thought for a moment. "Very well…then here's the plan," he faced Yuan. "Yuan, I'm going to pretend I don't know who you've been working with or what you've been doing."

“Which you are very good at,” Anna snapped. Kratos winced as the blow hit a nerve but he ignored her.

“In exchange, you're going to order the Renegades to stop firing mana at the tree immediately.” Kratos spared Lloyd a half glance. “Lloyd's group will head for the Mana Cannon."

"All right," Yuan said.

"Sir!" Everyone turned as Botta raced into the clearing. He glanced at the others and did a double take. "Adalais? How—?"

"Later!" she barked. "Tell him about the Iselia ranch!"

"Oh…uh…right." Botta turned back to Yuan. "Forcystus has executed our Iselia ranch infiltration team!"

"What does that mean?" Lloyd asked.

"The Iselia ranch is still operational," Yuan said. "We had people working undercover to switch over the mana flow."

Anna let out another frustrated growl. “Enough of this incessant chatter. Sheena, go with the Reenegades to the mana cannon, Yuan get those reactors shut down, Lloyd and the rest of us will go to Iselia and stop Forcystus.”

“I can go to Iselia,” Kratos said. “You should accompany Sheena.”

"You?" Regal said doubtfully. "Are you suggesting we should send you, our enemy, to do this by yourself?"

“Let him come with us.” Everyone turned to look at Lloyd. “Ada has the right of it. We need to start believing her more, you all know that.” Lloyd looked at Kratos appraisingly for a moment. “Kratos and the rest of us will infiltrate the Iselia ranch. Sheena, you fire the Mana Cannon when we give you the word.” Loyd cut across her protests. “You wouldn't be able to trust the signal if it came from Kratos alone, right?"

Sheena nodded begrudgingly.

"Is it about Chocolat?" Kratos asked Lloyd out of nowhere.

Lloyd fixed his father with his eyes. A strange sort of truce and understanding seemed to pass before them. Kratos could see that his son was finally taking charge and using his head. Lloyd could see his former comrade, while still an enemy, retained vestiges of the heart they had thought he possessed. Lloyd turned away. "What if it is? You're with us. Let's go."

“Wait," Zelos said. “I'll go with Sheena. Just in case.”

“‘Just in case’ my ass,"Anna mumbled.

The Renegades, Sheena, and Zelos followed Yuan as the other angel of Cruxis rejoined his former companions and set off. Kratos lingered at the back of the group, well away from both Lloyd and Anna.

Anna dropped back to walk with him. "I'm sorry I jabbed you about turning away from things," she whispered.

"You were right," Kratos said. "I have failed so many times, failed both you and Lloyd. Why should I be burdened by the truth?"

Anna grabbed his arm and stopped walking, looking earnestly up into his eyes. "Kratos, I hate what you did after I died the first time. I have forgiven you…mostly. Not all of us can do the right thing every time.”

“You can,” Kratos said.

“And it got me killed. Twice.”

“That’s not the point.”

“Look Anna said seriously. “Going back to Cruxis was folly. It was stupid and cowardly. But as long as you make it right now, it will all balance out in the end.” Anna gripped his shoulder lightly and smiled at him.

Kratos looked at her for a moment, before hugging her briefly, but tightly. "I don't know why you keep coming back to me…but please don't leave me again."

"I won't," Anna said. "I promise. Now go speak to Lloyd, trust me."

Lloyd glanced sideways at Kratos as he approached. As much as I hate to admit it, Lloyd thought, things will be easier with him on our side. I should hate him and I do…but not enough to send him away. Damnit! "Hard to believe I'm fighting together with you again like this."

Kratos looked at Lloyd cautiously as well. "Does it displease you?

Lloyd rolled his eyes, reminding the picture of his mother. "Oh, please. Of course I'm not happy about it. And I don't trust you, either."

Kratos smiled sardonically. He admired Lloyd's good sense, but it cut him to the core not to be trusted by his own son. "Good," he forced himself to say. "That's how you should be." Lloyd nodded. "Because you and I...are enemies."

Anna shook her head. What's it going to take to put our family back together?

"Why did you bring me along?" Kratos asked Lloyd as they approached the Iselia ranch. "You don't need me in order to stop the mana reactor."

Lloyd looked strangely at Kratos, since they had just had his conversation. Then he realized that Kratos wanted the rest of the group to understand. "Because I don't trust Cruxis. It just happens that this time, our goals, your goals, and those of the Renegades coincide, but we don't know what's going to happen next. It's easier to keep an eye on you if you're close by."

Kratos nodded. He's using his head. "I see. A wise decision."

"How are we going to get in? The gate's closed," Genis pointed out.

"I'll jump down inside from the cliff and open the door," Lloyd suggested.

"No, let me go," Kratos said, the air around him shimmering. "I can simply fly over a gate like this." His blue wings materialized and he floated up and over the gate, pushing the switch to open it.

"Show off,” Anna muttered as she trooped inside and promptly tripped, slamming into Kratos. Kratos caught her, sighed, and set her on her feet. Checking to make sure the others had gone in ahead of them, he slipped off his sleeve and pulled out Anna's headband, tying it back around her head, where it belonged. “I don’t know if this makes you less clumsy, but it certainly can’t hurt.”

"Aw!" Anna crooned as they headed into the ranch. "You wore it. How cute!" Kratos blushed but said nothing. They proceeded carefully through the halls, following Anna's whispered directions and reached the control room within minutes. Raien immediately seized the controls and brought up a map of the ranch.

"This is the mana reactor," Colette said, pointing at one section of the map. “We should head there.”

"Can't we just destroy the ranch?" Genis asked.

"If we're going to do that, we have to rescue the captives," Lloyd pointed out.

"We don't have time this time around,” Raine said. “Let's destroy or stop just the mana reactor while rescuing Chocolat and the others," Raine said.

"The captives are on the way to the reactor," Regal suggested. "We may be able to rescue them at the same time."

"There is insufficient time," Presea said. "It would be a seventy percent loss."

"It's the same as in Kvar's ranch," Kratos said. "We will have to divide into teams."

"I'll go to the reactor," Lloyd said. "Chocolat hates me anyway." He surveyed the others. "I think I'll need Ada for this one."

"Huzzah!" Anna cried, skipping over to her son.

"Now who else," Lloyd said. His eyes fell automatically on Kratos, just as they had those months ago in Kvar's ranch. Kratos's looked evenly back at his son and wife. In that moment, feeling the wings on his back, seeing his wife and child standing on the opposite side of the room from him, it occurred to Kratos just what he had done by returning to Yggdrasill. And there was nothing to be done about it now.

"Choose as you will," Kratos said.

Lloyd scowled. "Kratos, Raine, and Colette you come with us. Regal, Genis, and Presea, you handle the prisoners."

"We'll do as you command," Regal said.

"And I shall observe how far your skills with a blade have progressed," Kratos said to Lloyd.

The group trooped out in the direction of the mana reactor, trying hard to conceal their presence as they dodge around groups of Desians. At last they emerged in the large room that held the dark cells full of prisoners.

"Chosen One!"

Chocolat was clutched in the grasps of two Desian soldiers. The rest of the prisoners were streaming out of their cells, punching and hitting guards on their way out. Regal, Genis, and Presea moved forward, assisting where they could and herding the prisoners out one of the doors, but despite her struggles, Chocolat couldn’t get away.

"Chocolat, hang on!" Lloyd drew his swords and advanced on the guards.

"Don't move!" yelled a Desian. "The host bodies made a break for it when they heard you were here! You'll pay for this!"

Lloyd ignored his threat and as one, he and Colette move forward. The Desians dropped Chocolat to the floor and attacked Lloyd and Colette with unexpected speed. Both Lloyd and Colette were knocked to the floor and the Desians kicked them repeatedly. Lloyd tried to move in front of Colette to protect her, but to no avail.

"BACK OFF!" Anna shouted. She and Kratos drew their weapons and charged, irate that the filthy vermin would dare lay their hands on Lloyd and Colette.

"Hiyaaaaah!" One of the remaining prisoners jumped on a guard's back. Lloyd sprang to his feet, helping Colette up and checking her for serious wounds as the prisoner dug his fingers into the guard’s eye balls. Kratos slammed his sword hilt into the guard’s stomach and caught the prisoner on his back as the Desian fell.

"So you like kicking people around, huh?" Anna yelled. She jumped over her son and probably future daughter-in-law and drove her sword through the fallen Desian. "Well now it's payback time!" she hissed as Kratos finished the other one. Anna wrenched her sword out, rage intensifying as the man fell. Something gripped her as the dead man fell. She had an overpowering urge to cut him to ribbons for harming her son. She raised her sword.

What's happening? The sword descended and sunk into the man's flesh, satisfaction tearing through her. Inside, her blood was heating up…really heating up…pain ripping through her as she hacked him a third time.

"Ada!" Lloyd shouted. "He's dead. Stop!"

But Anna couldn't stop. Her arm was on fire with pain again, worse than it had been in the tower of mana. Something was controlling her, something causing her to lash out, to hurt another, top wound another.

"Damnit…" she cursed trying to keep her sword above her head, struggling as her hand felt as though it was on fire. "DAMNIT!"

"Stop," Kratos dropped his weapon and seized Anna's descending arm, wrapping his other arm around her and gripping her second sword hilt. He squeezed the muscles on both wrists, causing her to drop the blades as her pain intensified. Anna screamed.

"Kratos!" Lloyd shouted. "Do something!”

“Adalais, let go,” Kratos said pleadingly. “Let go of your anger. Come back.”

“She’s in pain,” Colette said. “Professor, heal her. Something!"

"No!" Kratos snapped as Raine moved forward. "It won't help. Regal, Presea, Genis: get the rest of the prisoners out of here. Now."

"Oh…my…GOD!" Anna screamed. "It hurts! It bloody hurts! Somebody stop it! Not again! Not again! Bloody hell! Help me! Kratos help me!" She continued to scream as she thrashed in his arms.

"Again?" Kratos's breath caught in his chest. "Where…Ann—Adalais tell me where!"

"Where does it hurt, Ada?" Lloyd asked.


Kratos wrenched her arm down and ripped her glove off.

"Oh my…" Colette gasped, stepping back.

Anna's hand was covered in blood, more continuing to leak from it. In the center of her hand was a round, glowing, blue crystal that was all too familiar to Kratos.

"What the hell?" Lloyd shouted. "It's an exsphere!"

"Lloyd, we need to go," Raine said.

"Raine," Kratos said. "Hit her."

"What?" Raine gasped.

"Knock her unconscious," Kratos said. "We need to bring her adrenaline down so it will stop feeding off of it and hurting her."

"All…all right…" Raine said. She raised her staff and delivered a sharp blow to Anna's head. Anna groaned and fell limp. Kratos threw her over his shoulder, calling himself ten different kinds of idiot. She was growing a Cruxis Crystal, one that Lloyd now has. I never thought the body would continue to grow one, especially after death. How is that possible?

"I'll carry her," Kratos said, pushing his thoughts aside. "Let's go."

"Shouldn't we send her with the prisoners," Raine asked as they ran for the reactor.

Kratos shook his head. "Regal and the other have enough to worry about. And we’ll need her sword if we are to fight Forcystus."

Raine gave him a skeptical look, clearly picking up on the fact that Kratos was refusing to let Anna out of his sight. She is by far too perceptive.

They ran into the room with the man reactor and Raine immediately headed for the computer.

"I can't," Raine muttered, typing furiously. "The system won't access."

Kratos sighed and gently laid Anna on the floor and walked over to the console. "I'll handle this."

"Huh," Lloyd said, as Kratos shut the mana reactor off. "You sure are handy with everything—swordsmanship, magic, even operating machines."

"I've lived a little longer than most humans," Kratos said distractedly as he powered everything down.

"Lived longer?" Lloyd asked. "So you're a half-elf, too? But then again, Kvar called you human--"

Kratos paused, realizing what he said. "Focus on what's important. We must stop the Giant Tree."

Lloyd bristled at the reprimand and tried to save face. "Y…yeah. Hurry up."

"That's as far as you go," said a cold voice. Forcystus stood framed in the doorway, his mechanic arm glinting maliciously in the light from the man reactor.

"Recover," Raine whispered. Anna groaned and opened her eyes, just as Lloyd stepped forward.

"You're Forcystus!" Lloyd snarled. Anna jumped to her feet and withdrew her weapons. The pain had subsided, but for how long, she could not say.

"Well, well," Forcystus sneered. "So you remember me. It looks like it was a mistake to have let you live. I guess I'll have to take care of you personally."

Kratos raised an eyebrow and moved to stand in the space between Lloyd and Anna. "So you're Forcystus. If death is what you seek, you shall have it." Kratos drew his sword, ready to give suffering to the villain who had caused his son pain.

"Tough talk from a human," Forcystus said. "You're the one who's going to die, along with this tainted world."

Kratos actually let out a disgusted sort of laugh. "Even if the world is lost, you can escape to Derris-Kharlan. Is that what you're thinking?"

Anna snorted, willing her anger away as her wretched hand tingled. "How naïve."

Forcystus glared viciously at the pair. "What did you say?"

"Desians are nothing but expendable pawns to Yggdrasill," Kratos informed him. "He'd never bother to save you."

"Silence!" Forcystus barked. "How dare you speak ill of Lord Yggdrasill!"

"We speak only of the truth," Anna informed him. “Yggdrasill will never save you, fool. Why would he?"

Forcystus laughed. "We have Derris-Kharlan! It is a world of mana, the very source of life! The destruction of this tainted world is of no concern to us."

"Really?” Kratos asked incredulously. “The Great Seed is invaluable to Yggdrasill. If you stand in our way, the Great Seed will die, and you will be held responsible."

Forcystus laughed "You have no idea what you're talking about. I am under direct orders from Lord Yggdrasill himself."

"Because Martel is fused with the Great Seed…" muttered Kratos, thinking fast, his shock evident only to Anna. “Are you saying that fool would go this far just to protect her?!”

"You speak as if you know him," Forcystus commented, narrowing his eyes at Kratos. "Who are you?"

Lloyd and Anna both burst out laughing at that, at the fact that someone who thought himself so high up in Cruxis had absolutely no clue who Kratos was. Kratos gave them a look that plainly said, 'Shut up' before looking back at Forcystus. "It is of no importance. Prepare yourself.”

But Kratos gave him no opportunity to do so. Instead, he flew at the half-elf, who barely blocked him. It didn’t take long for, Lloyd and Anna to follow suit. As one, the Irving-Aurion family attacked Forcystus with all of their strength. Colette began to chant behind them as Lloyd scored cut after cut on Forcystsus while Anna and Kratos kept him jumping backward. It wasn’t long before their swords cut deep into the half-elf.

"Judgment!" Colette cried, tearing his body with light.

"Ray!" Raine shouted, bombarding the man with beams of mana.

Lloyd, Kratos, and Anna didn’t hesitate. As one, the lunged at Forcystus, from three sides, plunging the swords deep into his body and twisting them to make sure he felt the pain. They pulled back, Anna doing her best to hold in her anger to keep the exsphere from acting up. "Such a pitiful sight," she snarled as blood leaked heavily from Forcystus’s torso. She sheathed her sword in disgust and stepped forward, but Lloyd beat her to it. He glared at Forcystus and kicked him hard in the stomach, sending him reeling backward and plummeting into the mana reactor.

Kratos wiped the blood from his blade before sheathing it and turning to Anna. "Are you alright?" he asked.

“No time,” Lloyd said apologetically. “We have to move.” Raine led the way out of the ranch, Anna and Kratos trailing in the back with Anna staring in horror at the blue stone caked with her dried blood.

"I can feel it,” she said after a moment, feeling Kratos’s eyes on her. “I can feel it taking hold of my mana, just like before." She winced as it throbbed. "I need a Rune Crest. This isn’t an exsphere, this is a Cruxis Crystal."

"I'm a fool to not have considered the possibility," Kratos muttered. "Try to keep your emotions and adrenaline down until I can get you a crest."

"Impressive as always, Lloyd," Regal said as they emerged outside. "Looks like you stopped the mana reactor successfully."

Lloyd rubbed the back of his head. "Actually," Lloyd looked back at Kratos. "We really owe it to Kratos. Even though he's still our enemy." Lloyd frowned and shook himself of the brief moment of humility. "All we need to do now is contact Sheena and—"

"You will do no such thing." Forcystus emerged from the ranch behind Lloyd, blood oozing from his body. He lifted his gun-clad arm and with a grimace fired a beam of light at the boy.

"No!" Anna dove in front of her son and pushed him away. The beam hit her full on and she cried out as mana ripped through her, accelerating the irritation from the Cruxis Crystal and sending her face first into the dirt.

"I am one of the Five Grand Cardinals," Forcystus roared, swaying on the spot. "I won't die so easily!" He doubled over, clenching his blood-soaked chest. "I'm taking all of you inferior beings with me!"

Kratos strode forward, livid. "So this is how the great Desian hero, Forcystus, meets his end," he said, his voice cold, his eyes murderous. "I'm disappointed," he said, venomous with disgust.

Forcystus stated up at Kratos, comprehension dawning on his dying face. "I see…I get it now. I wondered how a mere human could exude the smell of mana. You're Kratos…"

"What of it?" Kratos challenged.

"Lord Yggdrasill trusted you," the half-elf gasped, "yet in the end, you betray us! This is why humans can never be trusted!" He swung his mechanical arm wildly and fired again. Chocolat screamed as the hit sped towards her, but Colette got there first, flying in front of the girl. The Chosen was launched into the air, her wings dissipating as her clothes and flesh tore in the blast, before crashing back to earth.

"No!" Lloyd roared, running for Forcystus. "You bastard!" Lloyd drove his sword into the Desian, straight through his heart for hurting the girl he cared for, just as Kratos had done to Kvar.

Forcystus crumpled, blood oozing from his putrid mouth. "Lord Yggdrasill!" he cried as he slumped to the ground. "Glory to the new Age of Half-elves!" His breath vanished and the ‘Great Desian Hero” was no more.

Lloyd ignored him and everyone else, instead he rushed to Colette and helped her to her feet. "Colette, are you okay?” Colette shrieked and turned away and Lloyd saw something flash under her torn clothing. “What the—?!" Lloyd and the others gasped at the sight before them.

"No…don't look!" Colette cried, clutching her arm. Between her fingers, shimmered the green crystalline form that had become her arm. "Don't look at me!"

Kratos came up to his son. "Lloyd! Send the message, quickly!"

Lloyd looked at Kratos, uncertainty, fear, chaos, and desperation in his eyes. In that moment, he had no clue as to what he was supposed to do, and he silently begged Kratos for help as he muttered incoherently, "But Colette…"

Kratos gripped Lloyd's shoulder, piercing him with his eyes, trying to bring Lloyd back to the task at hand. "The Chosen won't die yet, but if you don't hurry, this world will! Now do it."

Lloyd and Kratos stared at each other for a long moment. Finally, Lloyd blinked and shook his head, shedding his uncertainty. "A…all right!"

Sheena and Zelos stood before the central core of the mana cannon. Sheena was rocking back and forth in impatient anticipation. She was nervous, but had grown more confident in her abilities as a summoner. She was fairly certain she could do what needed to be done, but if they didn't hurry, it would be too late.

"Relax, babe," Zelos said, grinning at her agitation. "If it wasn't going to work, Ada woulda said so."

Sheena glared at him. "Just like she said something about Kuchinawa's betrayal?"

"Ouch," Zelos said. "Fair point. But I’m sure she had her reasons. She always going on about not messing with the timeline. And we don’t listen to her most of the time anyway when we probably should, hence why she you know...died. Either way, we have to trust what she’s doing, don’t we?"

"I guess,” Sheena said heavily, eyeing the Chosen carefully. “Why did you come anyway?" Sheena asked him.

Zelos looked at her, debating whether or not he should be completely honest. He had come to be with her and give her some support. He also wanted to protect her, but could he actually tell her that? She’d laugh at him, or worse not believe him. It was his own fault he supposed, but damn did he want her trust. So he opted for some of the truth. "You get all worked up when you're anxious," he said. "I thought maybe you could use some company."

Sheena's eyes widened, surprised at his consideration. "Really, Zelos?"

"Of course," he said grinning. "Besides, you're unbelievably hot when you're doing the summoner thing."

Sheena rolled her eyes and smacked him lightly on the shoulder. "You're such a pervert!"

"Sheena!" Botta called up to them. "It's time. Lloyd gave the word."

Sheena nodded and stepped forward, her chin lifted confidently. "I guess this is it!" She withdrew her guardian seals and gathered her focus and her mana.

"Disciple of everlasting ice!" There was a flash of blue and Celsius appeared.

"Hammer of godly thunder!" The crackle of purple electric light announced Volt. Sheena gulped, not entirely over her fear of and anger with the summon spirit.

"Servant of Mother Earth!" Yellow light brought forth the adorable, annoying Gnome.

Sheena grinned and spouted her personal favorite summon line, "Envoy from the dark abyss!" Blackness fell briefly before Shadow materialized.

"I command thee! Gatherest before me and unleash thine power!" She took a deep breath and found herself looking back at Zelos.

"You got this, Sheena," he said.

She grinned and turned back to the summon spirits. "Okay, guys! I'm counting on you! Fill this reactor with mana, please."

The Summon Spirits nodded and began to filter their mana into the mana cannon. The core swirled with blue, yellow, purple, and black as the elements combined, their energy growing stronger as the glow became brighter and brighter. The tower rumbled as the mana gathered until the spirits finally finished and vanished without a word.

The mana was so great that even Sheena and Zelos could feel its power. It made their bones hurt with the very energy it was exuding, which meant that they had plenty of power. This was going to work!

Sheena raised one arm, signaling to Botta. "Fire Mana Cannon!" she shouted, chopping her arm down.

A stream of pure elemental mana erupted from the tower, its flash blinding Zelos, Sheena, and the Renegades. Roaring and soaring like a dragon of hell, it tore across the sea, throwing seawater into the air, tearing across fields and mountains, churning and destroying grass and ground. There was a final blinding flash and the mana hit the crazed tree with a roar, punctuated by a woman's scream.

In his base in Sylvarant, Yuan clutched the desk as the echoing cry faded and the earth abruptly stopped shaking. He looked up at the ceiling, his skin clammy and his hands shaking. He knew that cry.

Yuan rubbed the finger where his now missing ring had been for four thousand years. "Martel…"

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